As he shows his new collections at The Prince’s Trust Fashion Dinner, Matthew Williamson tells Stephanie Smith how fashion is driven by social-savvy style lovers.
Recognisably British, yet with a transcendently global spirit and appeal, Matthew Williamson has risen to become one of the magnificent maestros of the international fashion world.
His clothes blend high glamour with a free-thinking, bohemian edge, which means they have the wow factor, but also allow women to show their own personality, to look real, totally themselves, as they transform into beautiful butterflies for the red carpet, or the catwalk or a very special occasion.
This is a laid-back and authentic approach to high fashion glamour, underpinned by Williamson’s signature aesthetic, using a magical kaleidoscope of colour, print, embellishment.
His luxury fashion house produces four women’s ready-to-wear collections a year, has a prestigious portfolio of global clients and three standalone stores, in Mayfair London, Dubai and Qatar. And then, of course, there is his Butterfly by Matthew Williamson collection for Debenhams, bringing his joyously wearable designs to the High Street.
Born in 1971 in Manchester, Williamson studied at Central Saint Martin’s and founded his eponymous fashion house in 1997. In 2008, he was named Red Carpet Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards.
Ahead of showcasing his new collections at the annual Prince’s Trust Fashion Dinner in York last week, he told The Yorkshire Post that the fashion industry had changed significantly over the last decade.
“The advent of social media coupled with the democratisation of fashion has certainly increased the appetite for fashion, as well as the pace of the industry,” he said. “Consumers are more knowledgeable and eager to see new ideas, which really challenges every aspect of the business from design to production and retail.”
Held in Yorkshire for the past five years, The Prince’s Trust Yorkshire & Humber Fashion Dinner has so far raised more than £250,000 to support local young people. It’s hosted at a different Yorkshire location each year – Rudding Park, Harrogate, in 2010; Harewood House in 2011; Aspire, Leeds in 2012; The Hepworth, Wakefield, in 2013 – and the highlight of the night is a fashion show by a high profile designer, which has so far included Temperley London, Zandra Rhodes, Jeff Banks and Amanda Wakeley (together), and Maria Grachvogel.
The National Railway Museum in York was the chosen venue for the fifth fashion dinner last Thursday, a vintage-inspired evening, with a fashion show headlined by an exclusive showing of Williamson’s collections. “The autumn/winter ‘14 collection explored an attitude of optimism and high glamour – the woman this season was empowered and composed,” the designer said. “The spring/summer ‘15 collection shown last month at London Fashion Week was inspired by the relaxed glamour reminiscent of David Bailey’s shots of Marie Helvin in his book Chasing Rainbows.
“It was about the carefree attitude of a long, hot summer.”
The Prince’s Trust works with 13 to 30-year-olds, including those who have struggled at school, been in care, are long-term unemployed or have been in trouble with the law. It gives practical and financial support to young people, helping them in setting up their own businesses, including special programmes and advice for those wanting to find a place in fashion and retail.
“British fashion is world renowned for its celebration of new talent and creativity,” said Williamson.
“Whilst there is always more that can be done to help nurture and grow new talent, we are very lucky to have bodies such as the British Fashion Council which are integral in providing information, expertise and support which can help new and established designers.”
One of the region’s largest fundraisers for The Trust, the fashion dinners are the brainchild of chairman of The Prince’s Trust Development Committee in Yorkshire and the Humber Richard Jackson and his wife, Elaine, and the evenings include inspiring stories from young people helped by The Prince’s Trust.
And Matthew Williamson’s advice for any budding young designers? “Believe in your vision. If you don’t, no one else will.”